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Chapter 4 Death's Doorway

  • LATE in the afternoon the girl suggested that they start that night upon th_ourney toward her village.
  • “The bad men will not be abroad after dark,” she said.
  • “With you at my side, I shall not fear Nagoola.” “How far is it to you_illage?” asked Waldo.
  • “It will take us three nights,” she replied. “By day we must hide, for eve_ou could not vanquish a great number of bad men should they attack you a_nce.” “No,” said Waldo; “I presume not.” “It was very wonderful to watch you, though,” she went on, “when you battled upon the cliff-side, beating them dow_s they came upon you. How brave you were! How terrible! You trembled fro_age.” “Yes,” admitted Waldo, “I was quite angry. I always tremble like tha_hen my ire is excited. Sometimes I get so bad that my knees knock together.
  • If you ever see them do that you will realize how exceedingly angry I am.” “Yes,” murmured the girl.
  • Presently Waldo saw that she was laughing quietly to herself.
  • A great fear rose in his breast. Could it be that she was less gullible tha_he had appeared? Did she, after all, penetrate the bombast with which he ha_ought to cloak his cowardice?
  • He finally mustered sufficient courage to ask: “Why do you laugh?” “I think o_he surprise that awaits old Flatfoot and Korth and the others when I lead yo_o them.” “Why will they be surprised?” asked Waldo.
  • “At the way you will crack their heads.” Waldo shuddered.
  • “Why should I crack their heads?” he asked.
  • “Why should you crack their heads!” It was apparently incredible to the gir_hat he should not understand.
  • “How little you know,” she said. “You cannot swim, you do not know th_anguage which men may understand, you would be lost in the woods were I t_eave you, and now you say that you do not know that when you come to _trange tribe they will try to kill you, and only take you as one of them whe_ou have proven your worth by killing at least one of their strongest men.” “At least one!” said Waldo, half to himself.
  • He was dazed by this information. He had expected to be welcomed with ope_rms into the best society that the girl’s community afforded. He had though_f it in just this way, for he had not even yet learned that there might be _hole people living under entirely different conditions than those whic_xisted in Boston, Massachusetts.
  • Her reference to his ignorance also came as a distinct shock to him. He ha_lways considered himself a man of considerable learning. It had been hi_ecret boast and his mother’s open pride.
  • And now to be pitied for his ignorance by one who probably thought the eart_lat, if she ever thought about such matters at all — by one who could neithe_ead nor write. And the worst of it all was that her indictment was correct — only she had not gone far enough.
  • There was little of practical value that he did know. With the realization o_is limitations Waldo Emerson took, unknown to himself, a great stride towar_ broader wisdom than his narrow soul had ever conceived.
  • That night, after the sun had set and the stars and moon come out, the two se_orth from their retreat toward the northwest, where the girl said that th_illage of her people lay.
  • They walked hand in hand through the dark wood, the girl directing thei_teps, the young man grasping his long cudgel in his right hand and searchin_nto the shadows for the terrible creatures conjured by his cowardly brain, but mostly for the two awesome spots of fire which he had gathered from th_irl’s talk would mark the presence of Nagoola.
  • Strange noises assailed his ears, and once the girl crouched close to him a_er quick ears caught the sound of the movement of a great body through th_nderbrush at their left.
  • Waldo Emerson was almost paralyzed by terror; but at length the creature, whatever it may have been, turned off into the forest without molesting them.
  • For several hours thereafter they suffered no alarm, but the constant tensio_f apprehension on the man’s already over-wrought nerves had reduced him to _tate of such abject nervous terror that he was no longer master of himself.
  • So it was that when the girl suddenly halted him with an affrighted littl_asp and, pointing straight ahead, whispered, “Nagoola,” he went momentaril_ad with fear.
  • For a bare instant he paused in his tracks, and then breaking away from her, he raised his club above his head, and with an awful shriek dashed straigh_oward the panther.
  • In the minds of some there may be a doubt as to which of the two — the sleek, silent, black cat or the grinning, screaming Waldo — was the most awe- inspiring.
  • Be that as it may, it was quite evident that no doubt assailed the mind of th_at, for with a single answering scream, he turned and faded into th_lackness of the black night.
  • But Waldo did not see him go. Still shrieking, he raced on through the fores_ntil he tripped over a creeper and fell exhausted to the earth. There he la_anting, twitching, and trembling until the girl found him, an hour afte_unrise.
  • At the sound of her voice he would have struggled to his feet and dashed o_nto the woods, for he felt that he could never face her again after th_pectacle of cowardice with which he had treated her a few hours before.
  • But even as he gained his feet her first words reaasured him, and dissipate_very vestige of his intention to elude her.
  • “Did you catch him?” she cried.
  • “No,” panted Waldo Emerson quite truthfully. “He got away.” They rested _ittle while, and then Waldo insisted that they resume their journey by da_nstead of by night. He had positively determined that he never should o_ould endure another such a night of mental torture. He would much rather tak_he chance of meeting with the bad men than suffer the constant feeling tha_nseen enemies were peering out of the darkness at him every moment.
  • In the day they would at least have the advantage of seeing their foes befor_hey were struck. He did not give these reasons to the girl, however. Unde_he circumstances he felt that another explanation would be better adapted t_er ears.
  • “You see,” he said, “if it hadn’t been so dark Nagoola might not have escape_e. It is too bad — too bad.” “Yes,” agreed the girl, “it is too bad. We shal_ravel by day.
  • It will be safe now. We have left the country of the bad men, and there ar_ew men living between us and my people.” That night they spent in a cave the_ound in the steep bank of a small river.
  • It was damp and muddy and cold, but they were both very tired, and so the_ell asleep and slept as soundly as though the best of mattresses lay beneat_hem. The girl probably slept better, since she had never been accustomed t_nything much superior to this in all her life.
  • The journey required five days, instead of three, and during all the tim_aldo was learning, more and more woodcraft from the girl. At first hi_ttitude had been such that he could profit but little from her greate_ractical knowledge, for he had been inclined to look down upon her as a_ntutored savage.
  • Now, however, he was a willing student, and when Waldo Emerson elected t_tudy there was nothing that he could not master and retain in a remarkabl_anner. He had a well-trained mind — the principal trouble with it being tha_t had been crammed full of useless knowledge. His mother had always made th_rror of confusing knowledge with wisdom.
  • Waldo was not the only one to learn new things upon this journey. The gir_earned something, too — something which had been threatening for days to ris_bove the threshold of her conscious mind, and now she realized that it ha_ain in her heart almost ever since the first moment that she had been wit_his strange young man.
  • Waldo Emerson had been endowed by nature with a chivalrous heart, and hi_raining had been such that he mechanically accorded to all women the gallan_ittle courtesies and consideration which are of the fine things that go wit_reeding. Nor was he one whit less punctilious in his relations with this wil_ave girl than he would have been with the daughter of the finest family o_is own aristocracy.
  • He had been kind and thoughtful and sympathetic always, and to the girl, wh_ad never been accustomed to such treatment from men, nor had ever seen a ma_ccord it to any woman, it seemed little short of miraculous that such gentl_enderness could belong to a nature so warlike and ferocious as that wit_hich she had endowed Waldo Emerson. But she was quite satisfied that i_hould be so.
  • She would not have cared for him had he been gentle with her, yet cowardly.
  • Had she dreamed of the real truth — had she had the slightest suspicion tha_aldo Emerson was at heart the most arrant poltroon upon whom the sun had eve_hone, she would have loathed and hated him, for in the primitive code o_thics which governed the savage community which was her world there was n_lace for the craven or the weakling — and Waldo Emerson was both.
  • As the realization of her growing sentiment toward the man awakened, i_mparted to her ways with him a sudden coyness and maidenly aloofness whic_ad been entirely wanting before. Until then their companionship, in so far a_he girl was concerned, had been rather that of one youth toward another; bu_ow that she found herself thrilling at his slightest careless touch, sh_ecame aware of a paradoxical impulse to avoid him.
  • For the first time in her life, too, she realized her nakedness, and wa_shamed. Possibly this was due to the fact that Waldo appeared so solicitou_n endeavoring to coerce his rags into the impossible feat of entirel_overing his body.
  • As they neared their journey’s end Waldo became more and more perturbed.
  • During the last night horrible visions of Flatfoot and Korth haunted hi_reams. He saw the great, hairy beasts rushing upon him in all the ferocity o_heir primeval savagery — tearing him limb from limb in their bestial rage.
  • With a shriek he awoke.
  • To the girl’s startled inquiry he replied that he had been but dreaming.
  • “Did you dream of Flatfoot and Korth?” she laughed. “Of the things that yo_ill do to them tomorrow?” “Yes,” replied Waldo; “I dreamed of Flatfoot an_orth.” But the girl did not see how he trembled and hid his head in th_ollow of his arm.
  • The last day’s march was the most agonizing experience of Waldo Emerson’_ife. He was positive that he was going to his death, but to him the horror o_he thing lay more in the manner of his coming death than in the thought o_eath itself. As a matter of fact, he had again reached a point when he woul_ave welcomed death.
  • The future held for him nothing but a life of discomfort and misery an_onstant mental anguish, superinduced by the condition of awful fear unde_hich he must drag out his existence in this strange and terrible land.
  • Waldo had not the slightest conception as to whether he was upon some mainlan_r an unknown island. That the tidal wave had come upon them somewhere in th_outh Pacific was all that he knew; but long since he had given up hope tha_uccor would reach him in time to prevent him perishing miserably far from hi_ome and his poor mother.
  • He could not dwell long upon this dismal theme, because it always brough_ears of self-pity to his eyes, and for some unaccountable reason Waldo shrun_rom the thought of exhibiting this unmanly weakness before the girl.
  • All day long he racked his brain for some valid excuse whereby he migh_ersuade his companion to lead him elsewhere than to her village. A thousan_imes better would be some secluded little garden such as that which ha_arbored them for the ten days following their escape from the cave men.
  • If they could but come upon such a place near the coast, where Waldo coul_eep a constant watch for passing vessel, he would have been as happy as h_ver expected it would be possible for him in such a savage land.
  • He wanted the girl with him for companionship; he was more afraid when he wa_lone. Of course, he realized that size was no fit companion for a man of hi_ental attainments; but then she was a human being, and her society muc_etter than none at all. While hope had still lingered that he might live t_scape and return to his beloved Boston, he had often wondered whether h_ould dare tell his mother of his unconventional acquaintance with this youn_oman.
  • Of course, it would be out of the question for him to go at all into details.
  • He would not, for example, dare to attempt a description of her toilet to hi_rim parent.
  • The fact that they had been alone together, day and night, for weeks wa_nother item which troubled Waldo considerably.
  • He knew that the shock of such information might prostrate his mother, and fo_ long time he debated the wisdom of omitting any mention of the gir_hatever.
  • At length he decided that a little, white lie would be permissible, inasmuc_s his mother’s health and the girl’s reputation were both at stake. So he ha_ecided to mention that the girl’s aunt had been with them in the capacity o_haperon; that fixed it nicely, and on this point Waldo’s mind was more a_ase.
  • Late in the afternoon they wound down a narrow trail that led from the platea_nto a narrow, beautiful valley. A tree-bordered river meandered through th_enter of the level plain that formed the valley’s floor, while beyond ros_recipitous cliffs, which trailed off in either direction as far as the ey_ould reach.
  • “There live my people,” said the girl, pointing toward the distant barrier.
  • Waldo groaned inwardly.
  • “Let us rest here,” he said, “until tomorrow, that we may come to your hom_ested and refreshed.” “Oh, no,” cried the girl; “we can reach the cave_efore dark.
  • I can scarcely wait until I shall have seen how you shall slay Flatfoot, an_aybe Korth also. Though I think that after one of them has felt your migh_he others will be glad to take you into the tribe at the price of you_riendship.” “Is there not some way,” ventured the distracted Waldo, “that _ay come into your village without fighting? I should dislike to kill one o_our friends,” said Waldo solemnly.
  • The girl laughed.
  • “Neither Flatfoot nor Korth are friends of mine,” she replied; “I hate the_oth. They are terrible men. It would be better for all the tribe were the_illed. They are so strong and cruel that we all hate them, since they us_heir strength to abuse those who are weaker.
  • “They make us all work very hard for them. They take other men’s mates, and i_he other men object they kill them. There is scarcely a moon passes that doe_ot see either Korth or Flatfoot kill some one.
  • “Nor is it always men they kill. Often when they are angry they kill women an_ittle children just for the pleasure of killing; but when you come among u_here will be no more of that, for you will kill them both if they be no_ood.” Waldo was too horrified by this description of his soon-to-b_ntagonists to make any reply — his tongue clave to the roof of his mouth — all his vocal organs seemed paralyzed.
  • But the girl did not notice. She went on joyously, ripping Waldo’s nervou_ystem out of him and tearing it into shreds.
  • “You see,” she continued, “Flatfoot and Korth are greater than the other me_f my tribe. They can do as they will. They are frightful to look upon, and _ave often thought that the hearts of others dried up when they saw either o_hem coming for them.
  • “And they are so strong! I have seen Korth crush the skull of a full-grown ma_ith a single blow from his open palm; while one of Flatfoot’s amusements i_he breaking of men’s arms and legs with his bare hands.”
  • They had entered the valley now, and in silence they continued on toward th_ringe of trees which grew beside the little river.
  • Nadara led the way toward a ford, which they quickly crossed. All the wa_cross the valley Waldo had been searching for some avenue of escape.
  • He dared not enter that awful village and face those terrible men, and he wa_lmost equally averse to admitting to the girl that he was afraid.
  • He would gladly have died to have escaped either alternative, but he preferre_o choose the manner of his death.
  • The thought of entering the village and meeting a horrible end at the hands o_he brutes who awaited him there and of being compelled to demonstrate befor_he girl’s eyes that he was neither a mighty fighter nor a hero was more tha_e could endure.
  • Occupied with these harrowing speculations, Waldo and Nadara came to th_arther side of the forest, whence they could see the towering cliffs risin_teeply from the valley’s bed, three hundred yards away.
  • Along their face and at their feet Waldo descried a host of half-naked men, women, and children moving about in the consummation of their various duties.
  • Involuntarily he halted.
  • The girl came to his side. Together they looked out upon the scene, the lik_f which Waldo Emerson never before had seen.
  • It was as though he had been suddenly snatched back through countless ages t_ long-dead past and dropped into the midst of the prehistoric life of hi_aleolithic progenitors.
  • Upon the narrow ledges before their caves, women, with long, flowing hair, ground food in rude stone mortars.
  • Naked children played about them, perilously close to the precipitous clif_dge.
  • Hairy men squatted, gorillalike, before pieces of flat stone, upon which gree_ides were stretched, while they scraped, scraped, scraped with the sharp edg_f smaller bits of stone.
  • There was no laughter and no song.
  • Occasionally Waldo saw one of the fierce creatures address another, an_ometimes one would raise his thick lips in a nasty snarl that exposed hi_ighting fangs; but they were too far away for their words to reach the youn_an.